Social Product Development

Friday, April 9, 2010

How will PLM get Social?

Today we welcome Jim Brown as a guest blogger. Jim is the founder and President of Tech-Clarity, an independent research and consulting firm that specializes in analyzing the true business value of software technology and services. Jim has 20 years of experience in application software, management consulting and research focused on the manufacturing industries. He is a recognized expert in software solutions for manufacturers and has broad knowledge of applying Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Supply Chain Management (SCM), ERP, quality, service management, and other enterprise applications to improve business performance.


I have posted here and on my Clarity on PLM blog (see Going Social with Product Development ) that I believe there is significant business value to be gained from the intersection of social computing in PLM. Why? Because product development is inherently a team activity. Getting a product right requires contributions and feedback from people from all corporate walks of life. The most brilliant technical product that doesn’t fit a market need is wasted technical beauty. The fantastic market breakthrough that can’t be manufactured effectively is at best a squandered market, and at worst an opening for a competitor to introduce the leading product in a market that you created. The blockbuster product that can’t be introduced into new geographies is a lost opportunity. OK, ok, you get the picture and I know I am preaching to the choir. There is gold in the hills of social computing in PLM, even if it’s just inside the enterprise. And if the opportunity for innovation internally is high, extending outside is potentially greater.

So if we agree, the question becomes “how do we get there as an industry?” Here are my thoughts:

Figuring it Out – I believe that manufacturers need to experiment and learn to see what works. This is an area for process innovation, not an area where standard best practices apply. This is uncharted territory, and requires exploration. Multiple pilot projects, sharing ideas with other companies, and a willingness to fail are important factors to success. It will take a while to get this right, but those that get there first will not only have the advantage of their success. They will also have the advantage of the knowledge and experience they develop through the process.

Building It Out – Most of the early efforts will require custom work. As of today, there are no standard, off-the-shelf applications that provide everything a company needs on a “plug and play” basis. There are lots of components available, but they need to be assembled and integrated to meet needs as they are defined. Without proven best practices, it is hard to expect a standard solution! Having said that, some PLM vendors are helping blaze the trail. They are investing in helping manufacturers “figure it out” based on their own understanding of product development and building social capabilities directly into their products. (Note that by the fact that PTC asked me to contribute to their blog on this topic, you can safely assume that they are taking social computing in PLM seriously.) These built-in enablers are a big boost to manufacturers in helping enable their programs as they learn and experiment to determine where the specific business value is for their particular company.


Institutionalizing It – As the manufacturing industry becomes more experienced, best practices will emerge. At that point, PLM vendors will have a business process “template” to build from in the same way they had when building applications for configuration management or concurrent design. At this point, the infrastructure vendors (such as Microsoft) will have many of the core capabilities available in their technology stack. Those common components can then be assembled, tailored, and integrated into existing PLM business processes to create socially-enabled PLM. The key in institutionalizing these capabilities is to combine the generic social capabilities with the knowledge of product development, and then integrate the general capabilities into solutions that handle the specific needs of engineers and product developers (such as protecting intellectual property, linking to product configurations, etc.)


So what does this mean to today’s manufacturer? First, get started. It’s challenging to start on a journey when you don’t know the final destination. That is something that is being discovered along the way, and you can change course as you go. Start with small investments and short programs that contribute to corporate learning. Second, partner with your PLM vendor. Share your emerging best practices with them so they can help drive their product strategy. Some are investing today, others will follow suit. Be a part of the build-out. Finally, take advantage of the institutionalized, standard solutions as they become available. Share in the investment that your PLM vendor has made and implement best practices. But don’t wait for them to emerge, help create them. One company’s best practice isn’t always as advantageous to another. Focus today’s efforts on unique value that helps your company achieve its business strategy. There is more that could be said, but I will leave it at that for now and I look forward to your feedback. I also invite you to read more of my thoughts on social computing in PLM on the ClarityonPLM blog by visiting the blog, using this link will bring up posts tagged to this topic: http://tech-clarity.com/clarityonplm/tag/social-computing/

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